If you’re younger than 35 or 40, or didn’t start following professional bass fishing until the last decade or so, you’ve missed a lot, and I feel bad for you. The sport’s been around a lot longer than that, and a lot of its brightest moments took place before the Internet was there to cover them.
Rick Clunn’s win at the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series event on the St. Johns River has caused a resurgence in interest in his career. Long a fan and media favorite, his accomplishments may not be so well known to the latest generation of bass fanatics.
Let’s fix that.
No One Has Fished More B.A.S.S. Events
In his 42-year career, no one has fished more B.A.S.S. events that Clunn – 423 in all following the Elite Series stop at the St. Johns River. Gary Klein has the next most appearances, but trails by more than 30. Fewer than a dozen anglers have fished more than 300 B.A.S.S. tournaments.
He made the Classic classic
In the early days of the Bassmaster Classic, the big gripe (even in Bassmaster Magazine) was that the big names never won the showcase event. Bobby Murray was an unknown when he won in 1971. Ditto for Don Butler in ’72, Rayo Breckenridge in ’73, Tommy Martin in ’74 and Jack Hains in ’75. Where were Bill Dance, Roland Martin and Tom Mann – the early stars? It seemed like one of the big names would never win. But by winning back-to-back in 1976 and 1977, Clunn showed the bass fishing world that the Classic didn’t need an established star because it could create stars of its own. Clunn used the Classic stage to build his legend like no one before or since.
He shared the spotlight with POTUS
Clunn was the subject of the most iconic photo in B.A.S.S. history. In 1984, he won his third Bassmaster Classic in record-setting fashion. But looking back on the achievement, it’s almost overshadowed by the fact that Clunn was flanked by George H.W. Bush (then Vice President of the United States) and Bill Clinton (then Governor of Arkansas). Bush and Clinton were merely extras in the shots – a couple of pols trying to scrounge up some votes – but Clunn was the focal point as he made history on the Arkansas River. Who knew that both of the on-stage fish handers would advance to the White House?
He posted the most dominant Classic performance in history
The same year he shared the stage with two future presidents, Clunn turned in the most impressive and dominant Bassmaster Classic performance in history. On all three days of competition he had the heaviest catch, saving his best for last – his Day 3 catch was the biggest of the entire event. In the end, Clunn outdistanced his closest competitor by 25 pounds, 8 ounces and set a record for total weight (75-9) that still stands.
He has 15 B.A.S.S. wins
Fifteen is a big number when it comes to career B.A.S.S. wins. How big? Well, only Kevin VanDam (20), Roland Martin (19) and Denny Brauer (17) have more.
He won ESPN’s Greatest Angler Debate
Back in 2005, ESPN owned B.A.S.S. and conducted a program called ESPN’s Greatest Angler Debate. It started with a list of 35 anglers who were short-listed as the best of all-time. From there a “blue-ribbon panel” of fishing media pared the list down to 10. Then it was opened up to online voting by fans. The top 10 finishers, in order, were Rick Clunn, Roland Martin, Bill Dance, Denny Brauer, Kevin VanDam, Larry Nixon, Hank Parker, Jay Yelas, Gary Klein and Mark Davis. The winner was announced just before the 2005 Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh. Clunn won in a landslide!
Clunn dominates the B.A.S.S. record books
Clunn is a dominant name in the B.A.S.S. record books. Let’s start with 32 Bassmaster Classic appearances – two more than Gary Klein. Then there are 28 consecutive Classic appearances (1974-2001) – four more than Kevin VanDam (1991-2014). And of course, he has four Classic wins (tied with KVD). Those are just some of the biggest highlights.
Clunn and AOY
Clunn’s only AOY title came in 1988, but the lack of those trophies belies his success. In the early part of Clunn’s career, AOY carried little in the way of financial reward. Sometimes the AOY got nothing at all; other times he won $1,000 or so. Clunn’s focus was on the Classic – the most lucrative tournament in the sport. Nevertheless, he finished in the Top 25 of AOY in 29 different seasons. Gary Klein and Larry Nixon are tied for second at 23. Clunn was in the Top 10 of AOY 22 times. KVD trails with 20. For 28 years in a row (1974-2001), Clunn finished in the Top 25 of AOY. The next best is Larry Nixon with “just” 18.
The short lists
Clunn is on just about every meaningful “short list” in B.A.S.S. history. He’s one of only 11 anglers to win both an AOY and a Classic. He’s one of five to win multiple Classics, one of two to win back-to-back Classics, one of five to complete the B.A.S.S. Grand Slam (AOY, Classic, $1 million in prize money and the Century Club – more than 100 pounds of bass in an event). And none of the other four has also earned the B.A.S.S. Outstanding Achievement Award. (Clunn was its first recipient in 2002.)
Best of all, Clunn isn’t finished – not by a long shot if the St. Johns River is any indication. He’s evolving, adapting and adjusting to the conditions he faces and to the changes he’s seen in 42 years on the tournament trail. He’s also in outstanding position to qualify for his 33rd Bassmaster Classic, where he’ll certainly be a sentimental favorite. But Clunn doesn’t compete to be a sentimental favorite. Count on his being a real factor and a meaningful threat to win his fifth world championship.
Most of all, know that when you watch Rick Clunn compete, you’re seeing one of the all-time greats, still competing at an extraordinarily high level.